The E-Sylum:  Volume 5, Number 43, October 27, 2002, Article 8


  David Fanning writes: "Two of Larry Lee's comments
  regarding American coin hoards are, I believe, deserving
  of comment:

  First, Lee wrote that "I personally feel that 'coin shooters' and
  pot-hunters usually destroy any archeological context that may
  be associated with a buried coin when they go treasure hunting
  and that in general, they do a great disservice to the history of
  our country by removing the artifacts from the ground. The fact
  it is illegal to use a metal detector in our National Parks
  indicates the government feels the same way about the issue."

  This is troublesome. Lee has a good point about the value of
  conserving archaeological context and is correct in saying that
  metal-detector enthusiasts tend to ignore this when pursuing a
  find. However, I would suggest that there is no generally
  workable alternative.  The vast majority of museum personnel
  across the country know little to nothing about numismatic
  objects and frankly aren't going to rush out to the scene if
  someone calls reporting a coin or two they found in the woods.
  On the off-chance the museum personnel do come to the scene
  and end up in possession of the find, the odds are good that the
  coins will end up unlabeled, unattributed and stuck in storage
  somewhere (particularly if the coins are not easily attributable).
  Most museums simply do not have the staff and resources
  available to provide this kind of service.  Speaking for myself,
  I'd rather the coins be known context-free than not at all.

  A brief look through past issues of the Colonial Newsletter
  turns up information on coin finds by amateurs which have then
  been described for the publication.  In most of these cases, if
  these coins were found and given to a local museum staff, I
  would be willing to bet just about anything that they would
  not have had their descriptions published in the proper
  journal and that their importance would have been ignored
  by curators unable to attribute the pieces and unwilling to
  learn.  While treasure hunters of all stripes need to be more
  careful about preserving context with their finds, to suggest
  that they "do a great disservice to the history of our country"
  is a tad extreme.  In addition, the ban against metal detectors
  on Federal lands has, I suspect, a lot more to do with
  questions of ownership which arise from objects found on or
  in public land than it does with archaeological context,
  something I doubt most government officials can spell, much
  less preserve.

  Second, Lee wrote that "Incidentally, under the Native
  American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)
  enacted in 1991, it is now illegal to own numismatic artifacts
  that demonstrably came from 'Indian' graves.  Though not yet
  tested in court, this ban possibly could include awarded Indian
  Peace medals and the so-called Oregon beaver token."  This is,
  to the best of my understanding, true, though I don't know that
  its applicability would be broad enough to include these
  numismatic objects unless their origin in a grave is
  "demonstrably" proven.  However, I would suggest that while
  it is important to respect the cultures of living groups, it is a
  very good thing for the study of history that most cultures do
  not disapprove of precisely this type of scientific examination.
  This is a touchy subject, and a bit off-topic for the E-Sylum,
  but as numismatists, people who study history through tangible
  relics from the past,  I would suggest caution against adopting
  a perspective of "once it's in the ground, it should stay there."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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